As independent women’s groups who run shelters and counselling/solidarity centres, we came together with representatives from councils, SHÇEK, related university departments, and feminist women for the 10th Assembly on Women’s Shelters and Solidarity Centres in Istanbul between December 7-9. On the first day of the assembly, about 200 women were in attendance, and the six workshops held on the second day involved around 100 participants.

Domestic violence against women became a pressing matter not only for the state but also for the private sector thanks to the efforts of the women who worked together via these assemblies. Today, when the state is creating policies with the aid of EU funding, we are against the simplification of the issue as communication problems within the family, or for the fight against violence to be centred around the protection of the family. We have to fight against this in a more organised manner.

What’s more, the private sector’s campaigns to raise awareness about domestic violence against women, particularly Hürriyet newspaper’s “End Domestic Violence” campaign, are a step in the right direction. However, the Hürriyet newspaper organised a conference on "The Role of Media in Preventing Domestic Violence” during the same time as this assembly, and the fact that they did not mention the assembly at all during the conference makes for some food for thought. No organisation which aims to work towards the eradication of domestic violence in an earnest and consistent manner can get the results they want by overlooking the achievements and struggles of the women’s movement. Besides, the Hürriyet newspaper, which runs a Violence Helpline with financial aid from the EU, will undoubtedly have to cooperate with women’s organisations regarding the requests they receive, regardless of whether their aims correlate entirely or not. For this reason, we think that the Hürriyet newspaper must review its work during this campaign in terms of its relationship with women’s organisations. Additionally, there is a need to form a shared platform with women’s organisations, where ideas can be discussed as to how the state’s responsibility to build the necessary mechanisms to deal with the problems and issues faced by women who seek help via the Helpline can be enforced.

In 1998, around 10 women’s organisations were in attendance in the first Assembly, whereas today there are almost 60 women’s counselling/solidarity centres which make up the assembly. The assembly has made it possible for various legislatures to be debated and realised, such as Law 4320 regarding the Protection of the Family and the Turkish Penal Code. The requirement for councils of towns with a population exceeding 50.000 to open a women's shelter, regulation 2006/17 issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, and the related regulations by the Ministry of the Interior should be seen as the legalisation of the assembly’s concluding manifestos by the state. Furthermore, in the first year of the Assembly there were only 7 women’s shelters in the country, while today that number is 36.

As independent women's organisations that run shelters and solidarity centres, we declare on the final day of the assembly:

  1. Despite the new Local Councils Law having come into effect over three years ago, many local councils have neglected to fulfil their obligations regarding the opening of shelters. Those shelters which have been opened operate outside the accepted international guidelines on the matter. For this reason, we have decided to organise demonstrations all over Turkey on March 8, 2008 as a warning to local authorities. Shelters must be opened without losing any more time, and their activities must be based on feminist guidelines that have gained international acceptance. A dossier will be prepared on the matter by January 15, 2008, in which women’s organisations will share their experiences regarding shelters and counselling centres with local authorities, which will then be followed by an official petition for councils to open shelters, and if no result is gained from this, legal action will be taken. The process of preparing the dossier, which will include our experiences and observations regarding the operations of shelters and counselling centres that we have amassed over the past 20 years, and the organisation of the demonstrations will be run by the Women's Solidarity Foundation, Kırkörük, Adana Amargi, Akdam, Adana Women’s Assembly, and Mor Çatı.
    • The term “female perspective” is ambiguous. Those working in shelters and solidarity centres must have an attitude that supports women in line with principles that feminist politics have made possible, even if they do not define themselves as feminists.
    • Discrimination in shelters and solidarity centres must be prevented. Extensive awareness must be raised regarding issues such as disability, ethnicity, race, language, sexual orientation, and religion, and when hiring staff these sensibilities should be kept in mind. Additionally, keeping in mind that even the lack of necessary regulations can constitute discrimination, the physical conditions of shelters and the way they operate should be suited to diversity.
    • Solidarity Centres should have the means to provide support to women regardless of whether they request to be placed in a shelter or not, and there should be multifaceted support mechanisms for women in place. Both local authorities and the government should set aside the necessary funding for these.
    • As independent women’s organisations fighting against domestic violence against women (male violence), we aim to strengthen our communication via assemblies, relay our experiences to each other, develop shared policies, force the state to create policies to solve women’s problems, monitor and assess the implementation of regulations and make it possible for independent women’s organisations to be included in such efforts, and to build solidarity among women. The assembly would be enriched by the contribution and participation of representatives from social services and local governments, and feminist women, as well as the organisations which are its components.
  2. Women’s organisations who run counselling/solidarity centres and shelters cooperate with their regional SHÇEK and feel the need to voice their concerns regarding shortcomings in the guidance and monitoring of applications submitted to them. For this reason, a meeting will be held between women’s organisations in Ankara and the General Directorate of SHÇEK. The meeting will focus on the possibility of a shared workshop between women’s organisations in the field and SHÇEK. Furthermore, representatives from women’s organisations in each region will participate in human rights commissions so as to be able to increase the communication and the sharing of experiences with institutions governed by the SHÇEK.
  3. A campaign will be organised regarding honour killings. These murders are ascribed to moral values in the East and love or jealousy in the West, but in essence, their aim is to regulate women’s bodies and sexuality. There are undoubtedly differences between each region, and circumstances particular to them. However, honour is a shared issue between women from every class, ethnicity, and social background, and these killings are the most evil examples of male violence and attitude.
    • Murders committed in the name of honour should be clearly regarded as a compounded version of “intentional killing” as described in the Turkish Penal Code.
    • The article regarding "unjust provocation” in the Penal Code must not be used to protect, shield, and reward the patriarchal system by means of interpretations that go against the text and reasoning of the law.
    • Women’s organisations should have the right to be advocates in trials that aim to uncover the state’s dereliction of duty in murders committed in the name of honour, and efforts should be made to set a precedent regarding this.
  4. The campaign we aim to run this year will include demonstrations to reveal the male-dominated mentality behind the concept of honour, and the questioning of terms such as “honour killing”, “killing in the name of honour”, “female massacre”, “female murder”, and “systematic killing of women”. We are planning to run a workshop on the subject in the 11th assembly. The campaign work will be done by Mor Çatı, Women's Solidarity Foundation, Amargi Istanbul, VAKAD, Bağlar Women’s Cooperative, Selis, and Gökkuşağı. 
  5. Female suicides are a result of gender programming regardless of whether they involve physical coercion or not. Social values and pressures that force women to take their own lives should be brought into the open. Suicides cannot be normalised as isolated, personal events, the real issue is the patriarchal system that forces women into taking their own lives and the institutions that organise and protect this system. Women who attempt suicide and are taken to hospital with severe injuries often do not receive the necessary social, psychological, and forensic attention. In the aftermath of suicides and murders, the legal investigation should be conducted in a manner that includes the woman’s family and relatives, and those responsible should be revealed.
  6. The foundation of violence against women is built on family relationships. Terms such as traditional/modern, nuclear family/extended family, tradition/honour which are used when trying to understand this obscures the network of relationships where domestic violence takes place. Immediate family, relatives, and extended family are three similar forms of power, and their power is manifested indifferent ways in different cultures. Ultimately, though, they are mechanisms that decide on women’s behalf. The identity of male and female is built on family roles. To fight against domestic violence against women, one must also protest against traditional male and female roles and a sexist division of labour.
  7. A perspective which regards women who have suffered violence as victims is not suitable. In many cases, women develop means of resistance, and being able to perceive these means of resistance is an important step towards understanding the system. Being subjected to violence is not a personal shortcoming, but an outcome of the male dominated system in which we live. This is why a hierarchical relationship between women receiving support and women providing the support should be avoided.
  8. Shelters are also for children, but usually their needs are not taken into account sufficiently. Children staying at shelters should be regarded as individuals, and the physical properties of the shelter and its method of working should be regulated with their needs in mind. Shelters should include a member of staff experienced in the violence children might experience or be witness to.
  9. Many news and features in the media regarding violence against women legitimises and recreates male violence. Cooperation with MEDİZ (Media Monitoring Group) should be sought to efficiently monitor and publicise these incidents.
  10. The assembly is a feminist platform. Even if women might not individually define themselves as feminists, they are expected to have a female perspective and feminist stance. It is also very important that the policies and activities that are created are built on feminist principles.
  11. Wide-ranging awareness should be raised regarding issues such as disability, ethnicity, race, language, sexual orientation, and religious belief, and when selecting volunteers or staff working in the field such sensitivities should be taken into account. We must also be wary of teaching, behaviours, attitudes and activities that might lead to discrimination.
  12. Women’s organisations working to end domestic violence against women should be accepted as advocates in trials concerning female murders, and the necessary legislature to allow this should be passed.
  13. The definition of ‘family’ in Law 4320 regarding the Protection of the Family should be expanded immediately to also include unions that are not official marriages. As well as this revision to include women who might be in a religious marriage or living with an unmarried spouse, it is unacceptable that a law devised primarily to ensure the safety of women and children who have suffered male violence bearing the title “the protection of the family”. The law should be renamed so as to highlight the precautions taken to sequester the perpetrator of violence.
  14. Activities to raise awareness about sexual abuse targeting women and children in the family, and incest, should be organised. The issue of incest is a locked box and its dimensions are not yet known. The necessary platforms should be created to bring this issue to light.

In the 10th year of the assembly, we are aiming for a stronger line of communication and more widespread sharing of experience and information amongst women’s organisations. A representative mechanism should be formed so that the assembly can play a more efficient role in policymaking. This mechanism should not hinder the independence of women’s organisations, it should not be based on hierarchy, it should make information more accessible and aim for the empowerment of women rather than competition. It should put the shared experience of womanhood first and have a predefined area of activity. The debate regarding the structure of this organisation while adhering to these principles will be facilitated by the Foundation for Women’s Solidarity, VAKAD, Mor Çatı, İzmir Women’s Solidarity Association, Selis, and Kamer. The debate regarding the organisation will be concluded in the 11th assembly.